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August 16, 2018

Midshipmen Gain Real-World Cyber Experience

Midshipmen Interns

From left, Tyler Kim, Juliet Yu, Vanessa Hallihan, Benjamin Zintak and Luke Lightner

Credit: APL

As the U.S. Naval Academy awaits the opening of its Center for Cyber Security Studies — a $120-million, state-of-the-art training and education facility — several midshipmen are gaining real-world cyber experience as interns at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Recently, three midshipmen got a unique opportunity to share their work with the Laboratory’s Navy Cyber Forum, a collection of senior subject matter experts from across APL who coordinate and collaborate on cyber issues.

“They have done an outstanding job supporting various cyber projects,” said Vanessa Hallihan, deputy mission area executive for APL’s Cyber Operations and the chair of the Forum.

Given the nature of APL’s work and its relationship to the Navy, midshipmen have long been among the throngs of college students working as summer interns at APL. That number has been growing steadily over the years. This summer alone saw 38 students from the Naval Academy and — for the first time — two cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

For the last three years, however, the Laboratory’s Cyber Operations Mission Area has worked closely with all of the service academies to recruit interns, and Hallihan said the students have made critical contributions to several projects.

Building on APL’s Dagger situational awareness tool, Midshipman Tyler Kim developed a model for monitoring an Army data distribution system. The model will enable the Army to gain a better cyber situational understanding of their system. Midshipman Juliet Yu worked on the Software Forensic Archaeology for Cyber Attribution project, an effort to potentially reconstruct software development life-cycle activities and actors by examining malware artifacts and performing social network analysis of those artifacts.

Midshipman Luke Lightner immersed himself in coding during his internship. “I worked on a project using Raspberry Pi 3’s,” he explained. “The goal was to create a system such that two devices would connect only if the devices are in the same location. To achieve this, both devices were fitted with sensors, and the sensors compared pressure, temperature and other environmental [indicators]. I learned much about coding in Python, debugging, data collection and analysis. Perhaps most importantly, I learned what a possible career after my time in the military could look like.”

Benjamin Zintak, a systems engineer in the Laboratory’s Asymmetric Operations Sector and a Naval Academy graduate, has mentored midshipmen for several years and took 12 under his wing this summer. He’s had them over for dinner, taken them out to lunch frequently and offered advice on careers in and out of the Navy.

“As a former midshipman myself, I’m acutely aware of how little time they have to hone their academic skills outside of the classroom,” he said. “Summers at the Naval Academy are usually spent undergoing leadership training or participating in fleet cruises.”

Finding work for the students is challenging, he said, in part because they’re here for about a month, and very few projects have tasks that can be contributed to — let alone completed — in such a short amount of time.

“Nevertheless, this summer, the midshipmen programmed Raspberry Pi’s to detect malicious commands based on local climate readings, built Dagger models for Army installation networks, examined attribution signatures in malware, and helped develop defenses for the Portable Pilot Unit research project,” Zintak said. “They also learned a lot about Python coding and how to troubleshoot problematic code snippets. And they left with a much better appreciation of what APL is, who our people are and what we do.”

That is exactly why the Lab does this, Hallihan said. “We look forward to expanding our service academy partnerships and enabling improved understanding and awareness of the myriad cyber challenges confronting our services and our nation.”

Media contact: Paulette Campbell, 240-228-6792,

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit